New Mexico Prosecutors Bungled Charges Against Baldwin: Legal Experts

  • Prosecutors this week dropped the charges against Alec Baldwin in connection to the fatal “Rust” shooting.
  • Legal experts said the case against him was always weak and prosecutors continually messed up.
  • “It just shows a lack of competence that is a bit overwhelming,” one former prosecutor said.

New Mexico prosecutors on Thursday dropped the charges against Alec Baldwin in connection to the 2021 fatal “Rust” movie set shooting, marking an anticlimactic conclusion to the district attorney’s high-profile criminal investigation into the Hollywood actor.

“I’ve never seen a prosecutor have to retreat with her tail between her legs in my more than 20 years of doing this like I have with the Santa Fe DA,” Neama Rahmani, president of West Coast Trial Lawyers and a former federal prosecutor not connected with Baldwin’s case, told Insider. “But it’s expected because it was a terrible case that’s been botched at every stage of the investigation and the prosecution.”

Baldwin, who had pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, was facing two counts of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. The accident happened as Baldwin was practicing a cross-draw technique that required him to point a Colt .45 revolver at a camera, according to affidavits previously released by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office.

The First Judicial District Attorney’s Office confirmed Thursday evening that it would not move forward with charges against Baldwin after a 15-month investigation into the shooting, citing “new evidence that came to light,” as well as time constraints. The decision comes just weeks ahead of a scheduled preliminary hearing in the case.

The armorer on the set of “Rust,” Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was also charged with involuntary manslaughter in the case. Prosecutors said Thursday that they were not dropping the counts against her.

New Mexico special prosecutors did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment.

Weak from the start

“It’s a complete and total disaster,” Ambrosio Rodriguez, a former prosecutor, said of the nixed charges. “It just shows a lack of competence that is a bit overwhelming.”

Despite an aggressive and media-forward legal approach by prosecutors in the 18 months since the shooting took place, multiple legal experts told Insider this week that the case against Baldwin was weak from the start.

Baldwin scored a major legal win in February when prosecutors dropped a gun enhancement charge against him after his lawyers argued that prosecutors had made an “unconstitutional and elementary legal” error because the statute did not exist at the time of the shooting.

Then in March, Andrea Reeb, a former district attorney and Republican lawmaker, resigned from the case after Baldwin’s lawyers complained that her appointment as a special prosecutor was unconstitutional.

Emails released in March showed Reeb telling the Santa Fe District Attorney that the DA propping up her work in the Baldwin case could ultimately boost her own reelection campaign, according to The New York Times.

Rust film set


The “Rust” film set in the immediate aftermath of the fatal shooting.

Jae C. Hong/AP

They likely would have lost

Legal experts said prosecutors would have struggled to prove Baldwin committed involuntary manslaughter, which requires proof that a perpetrator acted with criminal negligence, during a trial; several said they expected the actor to win before a jury.

But the case never made it that far.

“For this case to fall apart, if that’s what’s happened, before it’s even been set for trial, it makes you wonder what exactly changed,” said Joshua Ritter, a partner with El Dabe Ritter Trial Lawyers and a former Los Angeles County prosecutor.

In a Tuesday statement, special prosecutors Kari T. Morrissey and Jason J. Lewis said the office’s decision does not absolve Baldwin of criminal culpability and suggested that charges could be refiled.

But Rahmani said that would be unlikely.

“Practically speaking and politically speaking, there’s so much egg on their face. They have to be so embarrassed to dismiss and refile,” he told Insider. “This is how district attorneys lose reelection. They just need to walk away.”

Alec Baldwin on the set of "Rust" after the October 21, 2021 fatal shooting.


Alec Baldwin on the set of “Rust” after the October 21, 2021 fatal shooting.

Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office


A famous face

The seemingly abrupt decision has legal experts wondering whether charges ever would have been filed in the case if Baldwin weren’t a famous actor.

“It seemed as though they took particular umbrage with the fact that he’s a big Hollywood star and that someone ended up dead in their jurisdiction, and that they were making a point of saying, ‘No one’s above the law in this county,'” Ritter said. “That’s all fine and good, but you better make sure that you’re not just bringing the prosecution because he happens to be a big Hollywood star, and that you actually have the evidence to back all that up.”

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